March 8, 2013

welcome to the kumbh mela

Filed under: festivals, travel within india — Tags: , , — cohn17 @ 1:09 pm

the kumbh mela is a hindu pilgrimage during which tens of millions of hindus come to the banks of the ganges to bathe in the holy waters. the kumbh mela is held every three years on a rotating basis at one of four sites – hardiwar, allahabad, nasik and ujjain – where, according to legend, drops fell when the gods and demons fought over a pitcher of the nectar of immortality. this year’s kumbh mela was held at allahabad, which is especially significant because it is the point where three rivers – the ganges, the yamuna, and the mythical saraswati – converge, and it is estimated that 100 million pilgrims came for it.

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they came by truck, they came by foot, they even came by bicycle.

during the kumbh mela, the pilgrims stay on the banks of the river, so one can imagine that the logistics would be a nightmare. however, the authorities handled the arrangements really well: tents and camps were well-laid out, there was running water and electricity, pit latrines and trailers with toilets, roads, and pontoon bridges crossing the yamuna river at various points. the bridges were organized so that you could cross only in one direction on the odd numbered bridges and only in the other direction on the even numbered bridges, and the police actually enforced this.

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some ashrams had fairly large and festive camps, while other folks lived in more basic conditions that weren’t so well-situated when the rains came. the roads were dirt, but with metal plates laid down for cars. the organizers even had clean-up crews for the river banks.  all in all, the logistics were impressively done.

the highlight, of course, is the bathing.  the current was strong enough that the organizers built fences as close as 20 feet away from the bank, at some points, to keep people from being swept away; and they also lined the more crowded parts of the river bank with sandbags to keep it intact.  these arrangements gave the river a less than organic feel, but with 100 million people trampling along the river banks, the damage would have been significant otherwise.

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                          bathing can be a contemplative, solitary affair …
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… or something a bit more hectic …
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… or just an irreverant good time.

next: more bathing.

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